Oh man, this is one I didn’t want to write. It feeds every elitist, latte-sipping, craft-beer-drinking, self righteous hipster stereotype rolled into one vegan organic burrito of preachiness. I’ve dreaded doing this column for a long time, but speaking uncomfortable truths is a sacred task, so here goes:
We really shouldn’t be letting kids play football.
Look, fine. Get angry at me. Spit on my Prius. I don’t have a Prius, but spit on one and pretend it’s mine if you have to. Burn an effigy of a thick-glasses wearing ironic t-shirt figure clad in corduroy. Do what you have to do to make yourself feel better, but when you’re done for fucks’ look at what actually goes on neurologically for kids who play football.
Take a step back: what would be your opinion of a school that featured the competitive eating of lead paint chips as a sport? You’d think they were pretty dumb, right? Now tell me how football is fundamentally different.
Ok, here we go. For the record, I know the following things:
- I know that football produces “teamwork” and “camaraderie” and “gives people something to rally around, especially in these troubled times when we are questioning our very identity as a city, etc.
- I know that you may have played football and turned out fine, or that your brother or husband did or whatever.
- I know there are new rules/equipment now to supposedly make football safer.
When you’re done with the mental gymnastics and apologetics, will you just read the reports on the injuries and deaths and permanent damage being done to kids’ brains by the repetitive (repetitive, turns out is the key here, not just single, obvious concussions) high G hits that are the central component of the game? It’s not like other sports. It’s not like hockey or soccer. There is no other sport where you go running at the opponents with your head and then smash into them on every play (Also cycling without a helmet is crazy-dangerous, as I have said before).
All the arguments for keeping football as something developing kids do are subjective and based on things like “tradition” and “feelings.” We’re talking about medicine here, and that’s based on science and science does not give a shit about how anyone feels. It just reports the facts and the facts, in this case, are increasingly ugly.
Three years ago I worked on communications for new medical pump to deliver Parkinson’s medication. As part of the project I interviewed 30 neurologists from around the country. At the start of the interview I would let them talk for five minutes on the topic of their choosing. All of them, every last one talked about football or brought it up during the interview. Here is a typical response:
“I’m from Texas. I played football. My Daddy played football. Football around here is religion. There is no way in HELL I would let my son play football… in twenty years, when we look back at what we knew and what we did about it, we’re going to have to ask some hard questions about why we kept letting kids play as long as we did.”
That was not some effete essayist at Salon.com or an ideologically motivated NPR contributor. Neither was it a feminist blogger or some nerd who’d been subjected to wedgies in the locker room. That was a hard-core football fan who also happened to be the head of neurology at a major hospital and research center in Houston, and he’s right. We should not be letting kids play football.
Three kids have died playing the game in just the past month. Eight people died playing football in 2013, all of them high school kids. No one died playing any other high school sport. Football in the United States is more dangerous than Ebola. Knowing everything we know, how can anyone look those parents in the eye? “We were too invested in the idea of ‘tradition’ and our own nostalgia to protect your kid from an obvious and real threat made clear by modern medicine. Sorry.”
I’m the first one to tell you there is an excess of gaspy “oh mercy!” over-protection of children in our culture. Too many of us wrap their kids up in bubble wrap and don’t let them out of our sight. I, like most people my age, grew up without wearing seat belts or helmets and people smoked indoors and in cars an all over the place. I hate how we’ve extended the infantilization of kids and all the bullshit about how people think predators and abductors are around every corner so kids can’t go to the playground alone. Read this blog and you’ll further see how I can’t stand what a nation of pants-shitters we’ve become over stupid, fake-ass things like the above-mentioned Ebola “threat” in the United States and how there is a general panic over anybody from another country wearing traditional headgear.
This is not that. Football is really, in-reality, absurdly motherfucking-ass dangerous and does long-term damage to kids’ brains and we should stop playing it as an organized and sanctioned sport. Oh, and on the “It provides camaraderie and teamwork for young males while channeling their inherent aggression to positive ends.” People, like, at the Wall Street Journal actually said that. Camaraderie? We’re fucking up kids brains for camaraderie? Really?
Baseball promotes teamwork. So does soccer. And a soccer ball will hit your head once in a game at a max of 20 Gs. Football players in High School take repeated hits (again, it’s the repetition that’s problem) from 20-300gs. Add that up to 200-2,000 hits a season and you’re talking some serious damage as discovered on MRIs of high school players by Purdue University. Read the study. It’s the study I linked to above. Here it is again. A lot of the previous studies have called for further research and these guys finally went and stuck high school-aged players in an MRI brain scanner after recording their hits on an accelerometer mounted inside their helmets. The research is clear.
Football fucks up kids’ brains.
This is not a culture war. This is not about liberals and conservatives. This is data derived from actual research. It’s like smoking: something people thought was safe and now has been proven by science not to be. We should stop doing this.
It’s that simple.